Saturday, June 8, 2013

How to draw tutorial charcoal pencil drawing by Rita Foster

finished piece 17 hours

I wanted to offer you a rough how to draw tutorial of mine which I actually took progress pictures of back in 2010 when I worked on the Apollo piece. I've been meaning to post this for quite some time but as you know life does happen, new projects arise, and ideas sometimes fall away momentarily. 

I hope to someday make a how to draw tutorial for my youtube account fairly soon so as to show the movements my hands make, it's much easier to explain to fellow artists through a visual perspective.

 I always make my drawings from looking at photographs and then add my own stylistic quality to them. Adding in ideas I have for the finished product. In this case, I chose to use the burgundy colored canson mi teintes paper to use as a warm colored base.

I kept in mind that whenever I blend black and white charcoal that of course it makes a gray, and when applying a cool gray next to a warm color it automatically gives the gray a blue tint.

Cool verse warm temperature is another way to help an image stand out.

Since this piece, I have switched to using Wolff's carbon pencils. These pencils are a charcoal and graphite mix so as to give stability and smooth transition. Once I discovered these I never went back because they are so durable that I can sharpen them to the finest of points without having them break when I apply them to the paper. This sure does help me to get finer details in. I did use generals charcoal pencils for this project in particular.

When starting out, I had a vision that I wanted to produce dramatic lighting and contrast the lights and darks as much as I could.

I begin with a rough contour sketch of the drawing. Measuring, using the sight size method. I use my pencil mainly for this, always taking note of different measurements and picking out landmarks I can measure other parts of the picture against.

I sharpen my pencils by cutting back some of the wood and then sanding down the charcoal tip to a fine point and removing the excess dust as to avoid getting unwanted charcoal dust onto the drawing. The less you have to use your eraser the better!

I first hold the pencil like this, it gives my arm a wider range of motion for basic shapes and angles.

At this stage I like to make sure my pencils are really sharp and I usually have about 5 each of black and white so that I don't interrupt my thought process by having to keep sharpening my pencil for the drawing.

Holding the pencil like this gives me more control over the smaller angles I want to start adding, the finer details I'm going to have to pay attention to.

This is about 3 hours of work so far. I separated light and shadow shapes as guidelines for future progress. This is the most important stage of the drawing process because this is the blueprint of the entire artwork. There is nothing more important than making sure the proportions are correct because you do not want to commit yourself to wrong measurements before you've even begun to tackle the rest of the drawing.

For me, I feel that I can never over work this stage. The more detail, the better.

Next, I begin to color in the deep darks of the shadow areas with charcoal. This helps me to envision the outcome and begin to give it some depth. I start by coloring in the darkest of darks first, then mid-darks. The darkest areas are going to be excellent landmarks to work from in the future.

The next stage is laying down a light layer of white pastel down in the areas not cover in shadow, this further helps separate light and dark and is a basis for the three dimensional aspect I hope to convey.

The next step is a little challenging sometimes. I actually start to add a layer of white over the entire drawing, but I only do this in small sections so I don't get too confused by what I see. The affect is that when I add black charcoal back over the white charcoal (in shadow areas of the drawing) it produces a gray that I think mimics the look of stone or marble. I use a process where I continually overlap light layers of black, then white, building up the texture that I hope to produce.

The more layers of white, the lighter it is. The more layers of black, the darker it is. This can be a painstaking process, but so worth it in the end.

This is about 5 hours in. I kept layering and building up the darks and lights, but at the same time keeping the color of the paper in mind. I wanted to make sure some of the burgundy color could still be seen through all of the layers of charcoal, especially parts of the light area because it gives an illusion of texture, which gives it a life-like feel of marble or stone.

Sometimes charcoal papers can do this for you. Mi Teintes paper actually has a textured side and a smooth side, for this I used the smooth side because it lets me get finer detail in, but I really believe that texture is so incredibly important to keep in mind when making a drawing.

This is basically what I concentrate on for the rest of the drawing, all the while fine tuning and adding more detail where I feel is necessary. I leave edges less defined in shadow, crisp and sharp in light. I also find that adding some dark to the background next to the lighted side helps the subject pop out to an even greater degree.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful to some artists out there or maybe even just curious folks.

 Just one note, I usually don't blend but rather use a series of crosshatching and keeping in mind the contour of each undulating form ,wrapping my pencil around the forms I envision.


  1. Thank you for posting these progress shots! Great to see how you do what you do ( so well!)